Cole Tucker made the press corps laugh from his first sentence, as he struggled to button up his new Pirates jersey.
“You always say you never want to be the guy up there fiddling with his button in front of the entire press conference,” Tucker joked.
If you can gleam any characteristics of a first-round draftee from his introductory press conference, none are baseball-related other than how he looks in that jersey. What you can gather are maturity and personality with the media. For that, the 17-year-old Tucker appeared mature, at ease and certainly humble.
“I feel like if I want to be a major leaguer, I have to improve in every aspect of my game,” Tucker said. “There’s nothing I do right now that’s good enough to be out there on that field right now.”
Tucker joins the Pirates organization, starting out with the Gulf Coast League Pirates in Bradenton, after agreeing to a below-slot $1.8 million signing bonus. He said he knew the Pirates would take him with the 24th overall selection about two picks before it happened, and going that early meant forgoing his commitment to the University of Arizona.
“I was jumping up and down, screaming, shouting” after being selected, Tucker said. “I just kind of went numb. It was a really cool day.”
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington praised Tucker’s “now” defensive skills and said that the team’s scouts saw a shortstop who was growing and developing.
“They saw a 17-year-old that is a year ahead of where most in his class are,” Huntington said. “They felt that if he were being drafted next year, he’d be in the top 5 or 10 picks in the country in his 18-year-old season.”
That notion runs counter to Tucker’s ranking of 84th by Baseball America and 62nd by Keith Law entering the draft, though Peter Gammons reported that the Oakland Athletics were ready to take Tucker with the following pick.
Huntington added that Tucker “makes the defense look easy, good hands, good feet, good arm, but also swings a bat. And that’s getting better and better as we go through it.”
Tucker described himself as a “baseball junkie” and emphasized his Pirates connections, like being family friends with former first baseman Kevin Young and current third baseman Pedro Alvarez. He says Alvarez reached out to him after the Bucs selected him in the draft.
Alvarez told him, according to Tucker, “It’s gonna be a long grind. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs. The key through the whole thing is just be consistent.”
Now it is off to Bradenton and Pirate City for one of the newest Buccos, but signing day represented a lifelong dream coming to fruition.
“It was so surreal for me,” Tucker said. “[When] you see that contract in front of you and you have all these guys around you watching you sign it, it really hit me hard.”